Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Seven Near-Death Experiences of Zek J Evets: Pt. 6

Ever been down the road less traveled, only to find that the road is less traveled for a reason? Well I have.

My near-death has been imminent so many times, that after a while you forget to be careful! Foolishly thinking that you'll manage to survive like always... It leads to many a hastily, unplanned excursion.

This penultimate NDE occurred during the summer of 2009. A couple of friends and I decided to take a hike up to the top of the only possible mountain in Orange County: Santiago Peak.

It was to be an adventure which would nearly claim my life.


Now, Orange County is a land of hills -- not many mountains, really -- but here are the stats for Santiago peak:

1. It is the highest point in Orange County at 5,689 ft.
2. It is the southern mountain of the Saddleback Range
3. The peak is covered with radio antennas.
4. The most popular hiking trail to the peak is Holy Jim trail.
5. Holy Jim trail is so named after a person originally known as Cussin' Jim, a James T. Smith, who was a beekeeper in the area, and was also known for his "colorful language". (Hence the name.)
6. Holy Jim Falls is located along the trail to the summit, and is named after James T. Smith as well.
7. Perhaps most importantly, the hiking trail for this mountain is incredibly long, twisting around the base of the mountain several times over.

Here are a few pictures to set the scene:

[The trail to the falls.]

[Holy Jim Falls, in all it's glory.]

[The southern slopes of Santiago Peak.]

[The peak itself, with some radio towers visible.]

Now, the characters of this dramatic adventure are:

1. My friend G-Money
2. My friend Tuba
3. A friend of G-Money's, and one of the models from my book, Nelle
4. And of course, ME!

We set out early-ish in the morning, driving across the county towards the very beginnings of the mountain, parking far from the base so we could avoid parking fees. (It costs over 20 bucks to park! Damn, Nature is expensive.) So the walk to even get to the mountain trail took over an hour, as we covered about 5 miles.

Once we finally reached the trail, we began climbing; heading first towards the falls to have lunch and chill out.

The hike was somewhat arduous, avoiding rocks, climbing across fallen trees laying across deep chasms filled with sharp rocks and prickly bushes. Basically being badasses. We also passed some houses and cabins that people apparently lived in, but hell if I know who'd want to.

The falls were actually kind of a letdown. They were a lot... smaller than we expected. But it was a good spot to have lunch.

Nelle decided she didn't want to keep walking to the top, so she went back down to the car (with my pocket-knife for meager protection) while the rest of us continued the hike.

As we reached midway through, G-Money's legs gave out on him, and he was forced to stop for a while before heading back down.

Tuba and I continued on, though by the time we were almost there, our legs were burning like a fire. I swear both of us nearly quit half a dozen times, but in the end we spurred each other on.

Finally, after an intense bout with gnats attacking our faces, while simultaneously getting routinely passed by from geriatric cross-country runners (they were having a tournament the day of our hike) we reach the summit!

The view was INCREDIBLE. Tuba and I could see three counties, and beyond even. We sat down for a well-deserved rest; made some calls; ate some food; basically maxed our relax by taking a chillax.

And I gotta tell ya, the feeling of having gotten to the top of this sumbitch was pretty damn satisfying. I could officially say: I CLIMBED A FUCKING MOUNTAIN!!!

Finally though, we realized the sun was getting awfully low in the horizon, and so we suddenly realized we needed to book it back down before it got... dark.

Tuba and I ran like drunken hill-billies, barely preventing ourselves from tumbling face first into the trees, rocks, and gorges on either side of the trail. But damn it was definitely faster going down than getting up.

Still, no matter what we did, there was no way to avoid the fact that the sun was going down faster than we were. Eventually it was completely pitch-black as we reached the forest area on the backside of Santiago Peak -- still over a ten mile hike to my car.

Hell, we weren't even sure my car was still there; I had given the keys to Nelle so she could chill inside. Hopefully G-Money had made it back too, but we wondered if they'd still be there, or had they called search & rescue? Maybe they thought we were dead...

Anyways, it was so dark we couldn't see a damn thing; we were actually kinda scared we might be stuck, and have to spend the night...

See, there wasn't any phone-reception, so calling 911 was no-good. (Not that I would anyways -- you know my experience with 911-emergency calls.) We couldn't call anyone actually, so no-luck with G-Money, Nelle, or anyone else for that matter. And without any source of light, there was NO WAY we could see whichever way we needed to go without getting lost, turned around -- or dead.

It was upon this quandary that Tuba came up with a BRILLIANT plan: he utilized his mighty G-Phone (Google Phone) and its patented high-beam function. I whipped out my phone as well, and we now had a source of light!

If only we could make it back before the batteries wore out.

We didn't.

About halfway through the forest, his battery started dying, so he turned it off to make one last-ditch call later, and so we used my janky-ass-phone's dim screen-light to guide our way.

At one point we see a... shape. Possibly a raccoon. Hopefully not a wolf.

Tuba and I stand stock still, straining our eyes to pierce the darkness and figure out what the fuck that thing is. So, in another brilliant move, we start throwing small rocks at it.

It doesn't move.

We toss some more pebbles at it.

Still nothing.

Edging forward, the shape turns into a ferocious and terrible... rock!

We keep it moving. Eventually we come near the cabins and houses we passed earlier. Only this time, it's late, and dark, and we're creeping around. Fearful of getting attacked as trespassers, we SLOWLY make our way through.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work either, and suddenly gunshots start ringing out over our heads. I hear bullets embed themselves in the ground around us.

Tuba and I bolt, like gazelles, bounding with a mad instinct to survive, managing to get passed the cabins and houses and into the main parking lot that we didn't want to pay to park at.

At this point we're tired. Tuba is beat. My legs are burning, and my arms are cut from bushes. Everything's sore. Tuba looks winded.

It seems safe here, so we decide to chill for a bit. Catch our breath.

At this point, we noticed a duo of high-beams illuminating from a very large pick-up truck that was slowly driving down the path. Tub and I, thinking the same thing, headed over and asked the guys if they could give us a lift to our car.

Problem was: they didn't speak English.

They spoke Spanish.

So, using my rudimentary skills in Spanglish and Pochismo, I got them to understand we needed a ride, and they let us climb into the bed of the truck.

As we drove along the trail, they kept stopping every so often to shine these huge searchlights into the distance, scanning rocks, trees, creeks, and all sorts of natural feature's miscellany.

No idea what they were looking for, but we suspect they were trappers of some kind. Or maybe just looking for a lost dog.

Anyways, we arrived at the parking spot to lo and behold... my car! Still there, still dusty, and along with it was G-Money yelling, "DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUDDDDDE!"

To which Tuba and I made the appropriate response, "DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUDDDDE! WE KNOW."


"Seriously, Duuuuude."

"Yeah, totally."

"I thought you guys had died."

And so we explained the story while drinking some Red Bull G-Money had brought us. (To this day it remains the only time I have ever drunken Red Bull. It was pretty good too, for ass-juice.) I ordered we go to Carl's Junior so I could have a "happy to be alive" celebratory meal, and fill J-Storm -- who didn't go on this little hike -- in on the situation. He, of course, was mildly entertained. G-Money also revealed that he had taken Nelle home and almost called our parents to tell us that we may be dead on a mountaintop. (I know, such a cheery conversation THAT would be.)

After looking at myself in the CJ bathroom mirror, I realized not only was I as filthy as a hundred year-old hobo, but I also looked like I a good half-dozen wounds across my body, including a small half-circle around my calf.

From a bullet? Who knows. We were shot at, but I guess we'll never know how close Tuba and I came to death that night. As it stands, we were obviously incredibly stupidly unprepared, and nearly paid for it... in full.

But yet here I am! Still alive, still around to tell ya'll these crazy stories of my mad days.

Stick around for the final chapter in The Seven Near-Death Experiences of Zek... J... Evets!


4 footnotes:

Mira said...

Unfortunately, this doesn't work either, and suddenly gunshots start ringing out over our heads.

WTF?!?!? Please, don't tell me this stereotype about Americans is true (they all carry guns around, wanting to shoot you if they suspect you're near their property). Maybe those were some... What a PC term for redneck?

G-Money also revealed that he

Yeeees... ?

Zek J. Evets said...

@mira: Woops! Check the paragraph again -- I fixed it.

As for the stereotype... it can be true, sometimes. Redneck is the term for many of these (mostly White) people, but it's not exactly... PC.

I think they were shooting for a somewhat good reason though. We could've been trespassers are murderers, or other crazy people. Hard to tell in the dark wilderness.

Anonymous said...

Safety tip: Cell phones do still work to call emergency numbers, even if you have no reception. (Who knows if they had that capability back then though.)

G-Money? J-Storm? Why, I think I'll just sit here and laugh.

Zek J. Evets said...

@Jasmin: They're supposed to, but I guess mine didn't get the memo-slash-upgrade. The programming on the phone literally wouldn't let me dial a number, or any number, because it kept telling me to wait for service. Bleh.

And you know I gotta use pseudonyms! Haha, and I rather like 'em.